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Sep 7, 2006 10:23 PM

Green Elephant Gourmet - Burmese in Palo Alto

6 hounds, beautiful presentation, but too few delicious dishes. Thanks to Melanie Wong for getting us tasters together. More to follow, but here are some photos of what we tried.

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  1. Yep, that's all folks. There's not much else to say. Or as one 'hound quipped, "get the samosas, then go". The place was full or nearly full at lunch time today.

    The Portmeiron dinnerware was beautiful, also the cut crystal wine glasses on the table when we arrived. Table service of mixing our salads, ladling up the two soups was also fine. But the kitchen couldn't step up to the plate tastewise. I continued to challenge the owner/manager to bring us condiments (i.e., fish sauce, chili flakes, chili oil, lemons, ANYTHING) to doctor the food. And, when she asked, I was truthful in saying that the food was flat and lacked the garlic, shallots, ginger, spices, etc. of other Burmese cooking I've tried locally. It doesn't need to be spicy hot, but it should have some character. Even though she said that there was a Burmese cook in the kitchen, we suspected that he/she didn't touch these dishes. We only heard Mandarin being spoken in the kitchen, whereas she said that her Burmese cook did not speak Chinese. Also, we tried to order coconut rice and were told it was only available at dinner time.

    Here's the photo of the prawn curry, which has a tomato, red curry base. David Sloo was spot on in describing it as a competent Spanish dish made with a mild sofrito. It never crossed over to Asia or Burma in flavor for me either. Some of us felt the prawns were overcooked; mine were on the soft side. But none were that tasty. Pretty plate though.

    Here's the potato curry, which accompanied the flour tortilla-like poodi (pancakes). This had a singular note of cayenne pepper that stuck out.

    The two soups were much too similar to each other. The on noh kauswer lacked the rich chicken stock base that should be the foundation. Instead the curried coconut milk overwhelmed all other flavors. The mohinga had some potential, but again was flat until I added some more lemon juice and fish sauce.

    I'll let others talk about the rest of the dishes. We were comped some fried bananas topped with canned whipped stuff. Cost per person was $17.

    Afterwards we stepped over the Rick's Ice Cream next door for our happy ending. Witnessing a fender-bender in the parking lot, I thought the subtitle for this lunch should be "Burmese car wreck".

    We need to get back to Rangoon. Here's an old thread, and includes my take on nearly the same dishes there.

    Edited to add contact info:
    Green Elephant Gourmet
    3950 Middlefield Rd.
    Palo Alto

    2 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Have you seen the Palo Alto Weekly's recent review?

      The reviewer seemed to like it quite a bit, but OTOH I'm doubtful of her level of familiarity with Burmese cuisine - either she was swayed by the ambience, or the understudy chef was in the kitchen during your lunch?

      1. re: jkg

        Thanks for the link, I hadn't seen the article. I consider Sheila Himmel a friend, but, we have different tastes. Her description of the ingredients of the tea salad and the mound of iceberg lettuce is exactly what we were served. But the difference is that our group and I personally considered a tea salad of that composition to be a poor example and lacking character. Your mileage may vary.

    2. Well, first off I did not get the impression it was Burmese from reading the menu. Only about 10% of the dishes were Burmese the rest were Chinese. While waiting outside I able to overhead the chefs at work and they spoke Chinese.

      Later of the owner told us her husband was Burmese and they had one Burmese chef and one Chinese chef. I was ask to find out if the Burmese chef work at night, but the food cause me a lot of disinterest in asking.

      The dishes, presentation and surrounding were first rate. Now if only the food match.

      All the ingredients expect for the shrimp was fresh and well prepared but it was not Burmese food. I want to like the food but if I want Chinese food there are a lot of other places I would go to.

      Rangoon does not have as good a setting but the food was much more Burmese.

      1. Doh, almost/could've made it there today. Alas it was past 11:50 when I was done with my meeting and work.

        1. This was easily the most uninteresting Asian food I've had in a long time. The flavors on all of the dishes were muted and flat. The servers were friendly and took the time to answer our questions but my taste buds slept through the entire meal, only to be awakened by a small dish of "Industrial Chocolate" ice-cream next door at Ricks. This was great stuff, probably the best chocolate ice-cream in recent memory.

          Avoid the Green Elephant!

          1. To Green Elephant's credit, they are trying hard in everything except the most important way: making good, interesting food that no one else makes.

            We got, largely, what we ordered. It arrived at something like a proper temperature. The server and one of the owners genuinely tried to respond to our requests -- and requests from Melanie are specific and test a restaurant beyond the usual (in the most delightful and culinarily encouraging of ways). The plates, the willow branches in the centerpiece, and the service were surprisingly appealing -- and exactly what chowhounds look past. Nothing was out and out awful, though everything was out and out bland.

            In short, all it would take is a real chef with real courage in the kitchen, and they would have an interesting restaurant. Melanie pointed out that the cooking itself seemed competent, so it's too bad that the spicing and the ingredient balances were so tame and so lame.

            It would be hard for me to anti-recommend Green Elephant, because the food is so safe and non-descript. But my inclination in that part of Palo Alto would be to gorge on kulfi ice cream at Rick's, go down the street to Deedee's, or just tell Green Elephant to give you six samosas and leave it at that.

            3 Replies
            1. re: David Sloo

              The food was nondescript and monodimensional...We hounds even left food on the table and NONE of us wanted to take any home!
              The" group" was fun, the ice cream terrific!
              I went to Piazza Market and bought a Duartes Frozen Ollalieberry pie which I baked and enjoyed that night!

              1. re: ChowFun_derek

                did you see a Duartes Frozen Peach pie at Piazza Market? I love peach pie so wonder if they have it there. I don't like all the little seeds in ollalieberry pie.

                What ice cream flavors at Rick's did you find terrific?

                1. re: hhc

                  They had, in addition to the ollalieberry...strawberry rhubarb, and pumpkin.
                  The Industrial Chocolate was intense...the one with wine in it (Iforget what it is called) and the pistachio saffron, all were very good... They even had one in bulk called..."Computer Chip"!!! ah these geeks...gotta love 'em!
                  I can't wait to go back and try more!